After graduating from Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, CA. (in suburban Sacramento), emerging Saints star DE Akiem Hicks became known for one thing above all of the other attributes that he possessed after enrolling at Sacramento City Junior College: raw power. Shortly after enrolling at Sacramento City, Hicks got a reputation for being a relentless competitor in the weight room. He’d put plates upon plates upon plates on the bar, and when there was no more room for plates on the leg extension, he’d stack them up. That’s how strong he was in the weight room, and it’s that same raw power that has made the 3rd year pro one of the rising young defensive stars in the entire NFL.
In 2013, Hicks had a “breakout” season. He tallied 56 total tackles, which was fifth among defensive tackles in the NFL last season — along with 4½ sacks, good for third on the Saints behind fellow DE Cam Jordan and OLB Junior Galette. Hicks was the benefactor in an increase of playing time, and he took full advantage: often “blowing up” plays in the opponent’s offensive backfield. Hicks used that raw power to become the 15th overall rated DE in the League (according to Pro Football Focus), and more importantly the third best overall in forcing offenses into negative plays. That bodes well for his chance of increased success, for the upcoming 2014 season.
Of course, most Saints fans that are also LSU fans had already heard of Hicks prior to his selection by the Saints in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Hicks did not play a single down for LSU. He left the program after he was targeted in minor recruiting violations, including impermissible phone calls and temporary lodging. As a result he was unable to transfer to another program; and as “ticky tacky” as those charges levied against him by the NCAA were, it still managed to sully his reputation. As a result, Hicks’ path to the NFL took some strange twists and turns that first included working at a DirectTV call center in Colorado Springs, Colorado answering phones, almost playing in the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts (he declined their offer), and finally enrolling at the University of Regina – a school in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.
In a total of sixteen games at the University of Regina, he collected 76 tackles (43 solos), eight sacks for minus 65 yards and thirteen stops behind the line of scrimmage, as he also had nine pressures, four forced fumbles and four pass deflections. His ticket to the NFL was punched starting with the 2010 season with the Rams, which saw Hicks walk away with All-Canada West Universities Athletic Association and All-Canadian Inter-University Sport honors. In nine starting assignments, he posted 34 tackles (14 solos) with 1.5 sacks and five stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also caused two fumbles and broke up a pass — giving a glimpse of his potential to become a disruptive force and play-maker.
As a senior at Regina, Hicks again received All-CIS and All-Canada West accolades. Interestingly enough, he could have left school for a chance yet again to play in the professional ranks; after he was drafted in the tenth round (48th overall) in the 2011 UFL Draft (the United Football League, a struggling minor league version of the NFL) by the Omaha Nighthawks, but wisely decided that he would return to the Rams for his final college season. That senior season saw Hicks get credited with 42 tackles (29 solos) that included 6.5 sacks, eight stops behind the line of scrimmage, two forced fumbles and three pass deflections.
His complete college career encompassed 35 games, all starts, as he registered 141 tackles (75 solos), eleven sacks, 33.5 stops-for-loss, 25 pressures, six forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, four deflected passes and one interception. Hicks raised eyebrows with a standout performance at 2012 East-West Shrine Game, where he just about COMPLETELY dominated the competition. Then at the NFL Scouting Combine, Hicks ran the 40-yard dash in 5.23 seconds. He also displayed that raw power yet again when he did 26 reps in the bench press at 225 pounds; to go along with a 31 ½ vertical leap.
The Saints took notice of Hicks’ performances, and practically jumped on him with the 89th overall selection; when they realized that he was still hanging around on the board near the end of the 3rd Round of that 2012 NFL Draft. In my opinion, his selection was a total steal when you consider that he possesses unquestionable 1st Round talent. As a rookie in 2012, Hicks was solid with 32 tackles and a forced fumble in 14 games; a limited amount of action but still yet a season in which he offered “flashes” of his true potential. That set the stage for last year’s “breakout” performance, and I believe that this season will be one which Hicks will take that next step to future stardom. This season will be the second year for him in coordinator Rob Ryan’s defensive system; and he’ll comfortably be returning to play in the same packages that helped him to emerge last season.
Now if it sounds like I’m “gushing” over Hicks and his abilities, it’s because I AM. For a point of reference, those of my fellow Saints fans who are as old as I am, will surely remember the Jim Mora Era late 1980′s and early 1990′s “Dome Patrol” defense. The huge 6-foot-5, 335-pound Hicks reminds me an awful lot of former standout DE Frank Warren, who was a fantastic defensive player that was often overshadowed by his more famous linebacking teammates. Warren had a similar style of play in which he combined finesse with brute strength. Though I doubt highly that Hicks will be overshadowed very long by Jordan and Galette, I definitely can see him having just as an important role in the development and overall success of this defense, as Warren did with the Dome Patrol back then.
Believe me when I say, it will NOT be a shock to see Hicks become a defensive star. He’ll be following along the same lines as his teammate Jordan, or other emerging star defensive linemen in the League – such as Hicks’ former LSU teammate and fellow 2012 Draft selection, Michael Brockers of the St. Louis Rams. The time is now for Hicks to make a name for himself nationally. He most definitely has both the size and speed to work his way around, over, and through offensive linemen, especially as fellow teammate and All-Pro Jordan earns more double teams.His versatility to play either as a tackle (as he did as a rookie) or at the end position makes him a valuable piece in Rob Ryan’s scheme. He is one of those rare types of players who virtually can make an impact on nearly every single play. When you consider that he’ll be playing alongside Jordan and Galette, the opportunity to do so will increase exponentially. That’s something that will make Saints fans very, very happy; as Akiem Hicks powers his way to “superstar” status….